Controlling nanoscale friction through the competition between capillary adsorption and thermally activated sliding. Academic Article uri icon


  • We demonstrate measurement and control of nanoscale single-asperity friction by using cantilever probes featuring an in situ solid-state heater in contact with silicon oxide substrates. The heater temperature was varied between 25 and 790 C. By using a low thermal conductivity sample, silicon oxide, we are able to vary tip temperatures over a broad range from 25 2 to 255 25 C. In ambient atmosphere with 30% relative humidity, the control of friction forces was achieved through the formation of a capillary bridge whose characteristics exhibit a strong dependence on temperature and sliding speed. The capillary condensation is observed to be a thermally activated process, such that heating in ambient air caused friction to increase due to the capillary bridge nucleating and growing. Above tip temperatures of 100 10 C, friction decreased drastically, which we attribute to controllably evaporating water from the contact at the nanoscale. In contrast, in a dry nitrogen atmosphere, friction was not affected appreciably by temperature changes. In the presence of a capillary, friction decreases at higher sliding speeds due to disruption of the capillary; otherwise, friction increases in accordance with the predictions of a thermally assisted sliding model. In ambient atmospheres, the rate of increase of friction with sliding speed at room temperature is sufficiently strong that the friction force changes from being smaller than the response at 76 8 C to being larger. Thus, an appropriate change in temperature can cause friction to increase at one sliding speed, while it decreases at another speed.

published proceedings

  • ACS Nano

author list (cited authors)

  • Greiner, C., Felts, J. R., Dai, Z., King, W. P., & Carpick, R. W.

citation count

  • 46

complete list of authors

  • Greiner, Christian||Felts, Jonathan R||Dai, Zhenting||King, William P||Carpick, Robert W

publication date

  • May 2012